STEPpin stanzas VIDEO
"ON THE WAY UP: CITY STEPS, CITY IMMIGRANTS"
a grant-awarded poetry and art project celebrating city steps
New film celebrates links between city's public steps and immigrants
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Oct. 6, 2019
Immigrants built an estimated 700 to 800 flights of steps in Pittsburgh in the 19th and early 20th centuries so mill workers and residents could traverse the city’s hilly landscape.
For the poet, essayist, and fiction writer Paola Corso, the public staircases — though many in disrepair — continue to embody the immigrant experience.
In a new short film about the city steps, Ms. Corso reads one of her poems in which she writes that the steps represent “our ancestors’ uncertain future … and new immigrants on the way up.”
She and other writers, musicians, performers and immigrants spoke Sunday at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s South Side branch after the premiere screening of the film “On the Way Up: City Steps, City Immigrants.”
Sahra Deroy, who owns a Bloomfield dance studio and is featured in the film, performed a fusion belly dance that included movements from her Romanian immigrant heritage for those assembled on the second floor of the library for the screening and a panel discussion about immigrant experiences.
Ms. Corso, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants who grew up in Tarentum and whose grandfather and father worked in the steel mills, called the film “a tribute to the early immigrants who built the steps and cared for them.”
Ms. Corso and and Andrew Edwards, of Aspinwall, are co-founders of Steppin Stanzas, which produced the film. Steppin Stanzas is a grassroots poetry project launched in 2016 with funding from the Sprout Fund.
The 15-minute film was shot in 2017 at the Oakley Street Mosaic Steps on the South Side Slopes, where 77 step risers were refurbished with colorful tiles through a public neighborhood art project.
Directed by Michael DiLauro, an Emmy-award winning documentarian, the film features a diverse mix of immigrants and immigrant descendants now living in Pittsburgh, including Kolu Kuwanu, a percussionist raised Togo, a West African nation; and Keiko Maeda Edwards, Andrew Edwards’ wife who was born in Kobe, Japan, and lived here for 14 years.
Mr. Edwards is an Erie, Pa., native and the son of Scotch Irish and Lithuanian Jewish immigrants.
He and Keiko Edwards’ son, Kai, 12, spoke on the panel and said his family “represents two worlds coming together and making something new.”
Maria Laranginho, a native of Portugal who moved to California in 2001 and has lived in Pittsburgh since 2005, says in the film that as a woman and mother of two sons she is “still climbing steps as a foreigner.”
A supplier specialist for SAP on the North Shore, Ms. Laranginho holds a green card as a permanent resident of the U.S. But she has recently become motivated to achieve full citizenship because of
crackdowns against immigrants by the Trump administration.
“I want to vote in the next election,” she said.
She is also disillusioned by some governments in Europe that are pushing back against immigrants.
“I feel like we’re back in the Middle Ages,” she said. “And that’s why I want to vote.”
Also featured on the panel was Feyisola Akintola, special initiatives managers in the Mayor’s Office of Equity. Ms. Akintola, a native of Nigeria, oversees the city’s Welcoming Pittsburgh initiative that includes programs to assist immigrants, refugees and internationals.
“We’re trying to be more intentional in welcoming immigrants to Pittsburgh,” she said.
Food empire founder Henry John Heinz was the son of German immigrants and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie immigrated here from Scotland as a boy.
“The city was built on the legacy of immigrants,” Ms. Akintola said. “And we tend to forget that.”
Copyright © 2020 Paola Corso. All Rights Reserved.
Sahra DeRoy, a bellydancer and artist, performs during a panel discussion and screening of the film,"On the Way Up: City Steps, City Immigrants" at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-South Side